It was around 12:30 a.m. last night, or this morning rather, when my mom, my sister, and I were watching a Friends rerun on Nick@Nite. As far as episodes go, this was a season six episode and therefore not typically on my favorites list. But it’s also the episode where season six takes a shift for the better, anyway, and is given a real drive to propel the season towards its finale. I’m talking about “The One Where Paul’s the Man.”
As I was watching “The One Where Paul’s the Man,” I had a strange revelation: Ross Geller is the funniest friend on Friends.
Friends is the first show that really made me realize that I love television. I found out about it in a year I was too young to be a fan of it while it reran at a time of day that I was too young to be up for. In reruns, the first episode of Friends that I watched is also the episode I think is the best of Friends ever, “The One Where Everybody Finds Out.” Years later, I learned how TV actually works and that there were first-runs on NBC every Thursday. The first episode I watched on NBC was “The One With the Videotape.” Like most people, Ross Geller was never my favorite; in fact, he could at times be a bit of an annoyance. But it wasn’t until years after that, after Friends left the airwaves with originals, that I realized there was a huge dislike by audiences for Ross.
It’s easy to guess why. Dr. Geller’s pedantic, whiny, and man-child but still the smartest of the group nature is hard to like, surely.
While watching “The One Where Paul’s the Man” last night, there was even a superimposed advert on the screen promoting more Friends reruns with pictures of all the cast members. In descending order of prominence: Chandler Bing, Rachel Green, Joey Tribbiani, Phoebe Buffay, Monica Geller, and then Ross Geller like a blip on the screen.
I’ve put all of my DVDs of the entire 10-season run away on my shelf for a long time now. For some reason, I just haven’t pulled a season out and popped it in the DVD player. But a couple of weeks ago, my sister basically commanded me. She asked me which season and which episode. Surprise, surprise: I chose “The One Where Everybody Finds Out.” For as hilarious and amazing that entire episode is, I don’t think there’s anything as gut-busting as Ross’s response when he finds out during the end of the episode.
“Who’s that guy again?” my sister asked about Ross’s boss who is visiting his new apartment during that final beat.
“He’s his boss. He’s there to check that Ross’s life is OK because he thinks he has anger management issues,” I responded. “Remember, ‘My sandwich? My sandwich!?‘”
We went into another fit of laughter.
Sure, Joey has “how you doin’?” and Phoebe’s got “smelly cat” and Chandler’s got “could this be…?” but do they all have as many quotables as Ross Geller? It is here where I concede that perhaps Ross the character is quite unlikable, but I don’t think there’s another Friends cast member who absolutely nailed every single one of his lines like David Schwimmer throughout that run.
Even whiny, annoying Ross can make me chuckle. As I’ve been watching more reruns of Friends as of late, I’ve caught myself genuinely surprised by just how much more I laugh because of Ross than most other friends.
I’m not saying the rest of the cast is devoid of talent. Actually, as I watch reruns lately, I’m also quite surprised by how much I underestimated Jennifer Aniston’s comedic timing. That said, in my first wave of rewatches (a sporadic one, as I’ve been catching reruns only whenever I happen upon them in the last couple of weeks), most of my earnest laughs come from a Ross quip or comedic beat. If anything, I grossly underestimated Ross the first time around.
From season one (“Hi”) to season three (“We were on break”) all the way through season 10 (“I’m fine”), Ross and Schwimmer’s delivery had the ability to take such simple lines and make them comedic staples with his voice, his inflection, and the most dramatic of facial expressions. And we’re not even talking about the physical comedy. In “Paul’s the Man” alone, Schwimmer fluidly cruises through flailing towards the ground, hiding in a night table, and doing his best Bruce Willis macho impersonation.
My sister’s favorite Ross quotable: “Sweetie, this conversation is starting to make me feel a little uncomfortable,” when Ross realizes Charlie is still in love with her ex. Writing it out just now, I snickered.
I suppose nothing can help the fact that Ross had his odd idiosyncrasies that turned the audience off. Looking beyond the character but at the performance, however, Schwimmer proves to be a comedic powerhouse — and Ross is most definitely redeemed in my eyes, every rediscovered laugh helping along the way.